Thursday, December 19, 2013


"And the Word (Christ) became flesh (human, incarnate) and tabernacled (fixed His tent of flesh, lived awhile) among us; and we [actually] saw His glory (His honor, His majesty), such glory as an only begotten son receives from his father, full of grace (favor, loving-kindness) and truth." (John 1:14, Amplified Bible)

There is an idea floating around in the church that God is spiritual.  We think this is a biblical idea because the Bible in fact says "God is Spirit."  Jesus himself said this (see John 4).  But what we mean by "spirit" might be quite different from what Jesus meant by the term.  When we talk about spirits, we usually mean a Caspar the Friendly Ghost kind of spirit that can float through walls and is more than a little translucent.  We use "spiritual" in a way that is somehow the opposite of "physical."  This is NOT what the Bible means by "spiritual" -- so when the Bible says "God is Spirit" it is not talking about a lack of a physical body.

We should not be surprised, then, at Christmas.  Jesus' birth into humble, physical circumstances is not surprising in the sense that it's strange for God to become physical.  God has been doing exactly that throughout the Bible.

Think of the Garden of Eden, for example, where the Lord God came walking (not floating) in the garden in the cool of the day to enjoy fellowship with Adam and Eve.  Or think of Abraham's three visitors, one at least of whom seems to be God in some sense.  I'm quite sure Jacob experienced God as a physical reality when he wrestled with him on the north bank of the Jabbok.  God was at least physical enough to throw Jacob's hip permanently out of joint.  Moses experienced a real bush, and a real fire.  

Maybe the burning bush is a good illustration.  What Moses experienced was real enough -- physical enough.  But the burning bush was not bound by the conventional laws of physicality.  According to the normal, physical laws of The Way Things Are, the bush should have been consumed.  It was this failure of fire to act in normal, physical ways that first drew Moses to the conflagration in the first place.  

In a similar way, God's "Spirit" nature does not prevent him from being physical; rather, God's spiritual nature means he is not bound by the conventional expectations of physicality.  So when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego are thrown into the fiery furnace, King Nebuchadnezzar sees a fourth person is walking in the flames with them, and by his presence with them they are protected from the conventional physical laws that people in infernos have to burn up.

This Advent season it is worth setting aside some time to ponder the Incarnation -- that doctrine that says Jesus is God in human flesh, God in the physical stuff of his creation.  This is not the first time God moves into the physical realm, as we've demonstrated.  Instead, it is biblical to say that God is constantly getting physical (apologies to Olivia Newton-John) with his creation.  

So in Jesus, the Word becomes flesh and pitches his tent (love that translation) among us.  We see throughout Jesus' life that he is completely physical, but he is not bound by the conventions of physicality.  Instead, he is the ultimate Spirit-filled person.  The Spirit of God filling Jesus doesn't make him less physical in any way.  He breaks bread, sleeps in a boat, drinks water, touches people, draws in the sand.  In each of these activities he is acting beyond the simple limitations of physicality.

Christmas is the grand celebration of the Incarnation, of Jesus-in-the-flesh, but it doesn't end there.  God insists on getting physical by pouring out his Spirit into Jesus' followers.  Pentecost is the great physical multiplication of God, as the Spirit fills the church.  Thus it is no contradiction when Paul writes, "Now you are the body of Christ ..." (see 1 Corinthians 12).  God continues to get physical.

Someday, the Bible says, God's essence, God's Spirit, God's self will inhabit all of creation, and none of the physical world will be subject to the limits of physicality, of entropy, of sin and death.  Instead, the creation will be made new and it will become "a land in which righteousness is at home" (see 2 Peter 3).  

This is a big idea to cram into one holiday.  But as you're enjoying the physicality of Christmas -- the tree, the presents, the food, the drink, the embraces, the lights and the smells -- don't think God is somehow above it all, outside it all.  Instead he is in the midst of it, closer than your taste buds.

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